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Could President Trump Be Impeached?

Brandon Evans   |  June 26, 2017   |  

Signs of a Movement

Are we witnessing the rumblings and signs of a movement to attempt to impeach our sitting President, Donald Trump? We have allegations of scandal involving collusion with our arch enemies, the Russians. We hear chatter about the President pressuring FBI director Comey to drop the investigation into the Russians. Then President Trump fires Director Comey.

Remember, these are only rumblings and unsubstantiated allegations at this point. Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. President Trump deserves no less.

Constitutional legal scholars continue to debate whether bringing criminal charges against a sitting President of the United States would violate the separation of powers clause by allowing the judicial branch to exert pressure and control over the chief of the executive branch. However, the consensus among most constitutional experts is that a President must first be impeached before he can face criminal charges.

What is Impeachment?

Impeachment is the process enshrined in our Constitution allowing Congress to level charges against a President as groundwork for removing the President from office. Impeachment is technically a step short of actual removal, and is akin to an indictment (whereby a grand jury votes as to whether there is probable cause of the commission of a crime and gives a district attorney permission to pursue felony charges against a defendant, setting the stage for a trial by a 12-person jury). Impeaching the president does not mean that he will be removed.

The power of impeachment is found in the United States Constitution. Article II Section 4 provides that the president may be removed from office upon impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Article I, Clause 5, Section 2 then sets out the framework by which this process may play out, but the language is quite broad and leaves much for interpretation.

What are Treason, Bribery, High Crimes and Misdemeanors?

Treason is betraying one’s country. Bribery is soliciting any item of value to influence the actions of an official in charge of a public or legal duty and usually takes the form of payment in exchange for favorable treatment. However, there is no definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is particularly problematic because typically a misdemeanor is a low-level crime. It is questionable whether impeachment could be warranted for a low-level crime. Certainly, impeachment is warranted for crimes that in some way involve betrayal of the duties of office.

The House of Representatives Votes to Impeach

The first step is that the House must vote to impeach the President. Any member of the House may introduce the petition to impeach. In reality, the crimes for impeachment are whatever the House of Representatives say they are. It is up to ONLY a simple majority to vote in favor of impeachment. Then the matter goes to the Senate for Trial.

The Senate Tries the President

The House selects representatives to prosecute the case and the President selects his defense team. Then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial before the members of the Senate. A conviction in the Senate is very difficult because it requires more than two thirds of the Senators to find him guilty. Only if more than two thirds of the Senate votes that the President is guilty, can he be removed from office. Then the Vice President becomes the President.

Past Impeachments: Bill Clinton, Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon

Bill Clinton was infamously impeached by a majority vote of the United States House of Representatives in 1998 on the counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. These charges stemmed from Clinton’s testimony in a civil lawsuit by Paula Jones in which Clinton was deposed and asked about an affair with Monica Lewinski. Clinton denied the affair and was accused of lying under oath. Arguably, his perjury did not involve any of the duties of his office, so there was great debate as to whether impeachment was proper.

The Clinton impeachment battle caused Congress to create a framework whereby articles of impeachment were introduced in the House judiciary committee, voted upon, and then brought before the full House of Representatives. A majority of the House voted to impeach President Clinton on two of the five grounds approved by the judiciary committee, so the matter then proceeded to the United States Senate, where a trial was held. The Senate ultimately voted 55-45 to find Clinton guilty and remove him from office. Remember, the Constitution requires 2/3 of the Senate to vote for removal so the removal from office failed and Clinton remained in office. Still, Clinton was technically “impeached”.

Clinton was actually the second President impeached. Andrew Johnson has the distinction of being the first president ever impeached. In 1868, he was impeached by a vote of the House and unsuccessfully prosecuted before the Senate. President Johnson, like President Clinton, was not removed from office.

Many people erroneously believe that President Richard Nixon was impeached. In 1974, Nixon was implicated in the most damning political scandal ever (Watergate) and would probably have been impeached and convicted. Instead he chose to resign prior to a vote in the House. He still landed on his feet when the Vice President, Gerald Ford, became president and graciously pardoned him.

What Now?

Hold your horses! Until the investigation into President Trump is completed, it is important to NOT rush to judgment or conclusion. The ongoing investigation conducted by Robert Mueller will determine if any laws were or were not broken by President Trump and his administration. Until then it is important to continue to ask questions about the facts. If you don’t agree with the actions of President Trump and our other elected officials, then demonstrate your disapproval by voting in the upcoming congressional elections that will be held in a year and one half. Don’t jump on the bandwagon of contempt and support unjustified cries for impeachment. Give the process and justice time to work.

However, while the investigation continues, keep in mind the “what if’s” involved.

What if President Trump or his family had communications with Russia either during the campaign, or after the campaign but before he took office? What if Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner took money from the Russians for either the campaign or business affairs? What if President Trump or his campaign officials knew the Russians were hacking during the campaign? What if President Trump or his campaign officials helped the Russians hack?

Again, don’t rush to judgment but instead allow the investigation to conclude first. The investigation will help determine the consequences. Until then, stayed tuned.